Maps: They Don’t Love You Like I Love You

Alternative title: “Lies and the lying liars that map them.”

Just thinking about maps…

1) Donald Westlake’s High Adventure (1985), quoted in Denis Wood’s “Pleasure in the Idea / The Atlas as Narrative Form” (page 27):

“The map is not the terrain,” the skinny black man said.

“Oh, yes, it is,” Valerie said. With her right hand she tapped the map on the attaché case on her lap, while waving with her left at the hilly green unpopulated countryside bucketing by: “This map is that terrain.”

“It is a quote,” the skinny black man said, steering almost around a pothole. “It means, there are always differences between reality and the descriptions of reality.”

“Nevertheless,” Valerie said, holding on amid the bumps, “we should have turned left back there.”

“What your map does not show,” the skinny black man told her, “is that the floods in December washed away a part of that road. I see the floods didn’t affect your map.”

2) Mac McClelland’s “Climate Change: Slip Sliding Away” (March / April 2015) begins:

When a family from the Midwest looked up satellite images of the house at 23267 Midgetts Mobile Court in Rodanthe, North Carolina, they saw that it was separated from the Atlantic Ocean—sparkling, even in the photograph—by another mansion. But when they arrived there this past July, they were mystified, if not at all disappointed. The six-bedroom, 4,500-square-foot vacation rental, for which they were shelling out $8,000 a week, was now oceanfront property.

“I swear on the map there was another house here,” the father puzzled.

There was. There still is, on Google Maps, a sprawling structure enchantingly but, as it turned out, recklessly, ill-fatedly close to the waves lapping the beach. The family didn’t know if it had been moved, its owners paying to lift the McMansion whole and transport it to another plot farther inland. Or maybe, like dozens of houses before it, it was simply sucked into the sea.

3) Mark Twain’s The Complete Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer (1884):

“Because if we was going so fast we ought to be past Illinois, oughtn’t we?”


“Well, we ain’t.”

“What’s the reason we ain’t?”

“I know by the color. We’re right over Illinois yet. And you can see for yourself that Indiana ain’t in sight.”

“I wonder what’s the matter with you, Huck. You know by the COLOR?”

“Yes, of course I do.”

“What’s the color got to do with it?”

“It’s got everything to do with it. Illinois is green, Indiana is pink. You show me any pink down here, if you can. No, sir; it’s green.”

“Indiana PINK? Why, what a lie!”

“It ain’t no lie; I’ve seen it on the map, and it’s pink.”

4) “The Map of the World Confused with Its Territory” (1987) by Susan Stewart via the Poetry Foundation:

In a drawer I found a map of the world,
folded into eighths and then once again
and each country bore the wrong name because
the map of the world is an orphanage.

The edges of the earth had a margin
as frayed as the hem of the falling night
and a crease moved down toward the center of
the earth, halving the identical stars.

Every river ran with its thin blue
brother out from the heart of a country:
there cedars twisted toward the southern sky
and reeds plumed eastward like an augur’s pens.

No dates on the wrinkles of that broad face,
no slow grinding of mountains and sand, for—
all at once, like a knife on a whetstone—
the map of the world spoke in snakes and tongues.

The hard-topped roads of the western suburbs
and the distant lights of the capitol
each pull away from the yellowed beaches
and step into the lost sea of daybreak.

The map of the world is a canvas turning
away from the painter’s ink-stained hands
while the pigments cake in their little glass
jars and the brushes grow stiff with forgetting.

There is no model, shy and half-undressed,
no open window and flickering lamp,
yet someone has left this sealed blue letter,
this gypsy’s bandana on the darkening

Table, each corner held down by a conch
shell. What does the body remember at
dusk? That the palms of the hands are a map
of the world, erased and drawn again and

Again, then covered with rivers and earth.

5) Maps!

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